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Galileo mystery: ‘Where did the £92million go?’ MP asks as UK plan to rival EU is scrapped

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Mr Ellwood, chairman of the House of Commons defence committee, also lamented Britain’s exclusion from the project – a decision he said had been pushed by the French. The UK Space Agency has been widely reported to be poised to pull the plug on the project and has not commented in the face of reports to that effect earlier this week.

There needs to be an understanding of what happened to this money

Tobias Ellwood

The feasibility study was launched by then-Prime Minister Theresa May in 2018, while Gavin Williamson was Defence Secretary, with the task of looking at options for the UK’s own Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).

The decision came after it emerged Britain was facing exclusion from Galileo after Brexit – despite having spent upwards of £1billion on the project and having developed much of the technology which underpins it.

Mr Ellwood, MP for Bournemouth East, told “There needs to be an understanding of what happened to this money.

“That’s a lot of money on a project that many in the military had already raised eyebrows over.”

Speaking about Galileo, which is essentially the EU’s answer to the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS), Mr Ellwood, who backed Remain in 2016, said: “This was our baby in the beginning.

“This was Surrey Satellites then Airbus, but then it got caught up in the Brexit debate.

“I raised this any number of times to say we must be cautious that Galileo does not become a casualty of Brexit discussions because European security is not the same as EU security and it is the former which is more important.”

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He added: “Unfortunately it is the French who have pushed this, to demand that access to the Galileo project requires EU membership.

“So Airbus just shifted focus from the UK to France and I am really sorry that this was not raised much earlier.”

The failure to address the basic problem had demonstrated a basic failure to grasp the wider security issues involved, explained Mr Ellwood, a Sandhurst graduate who reached the rank of Captain.

He said: “I raised this at a conference on European security cooperation to say how wrong it was that Britain was being punished because a decision had been made to leave the EU.

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“We are the largest military contributors to the continent.

“I am afraid it has fallen on deaf ears and it means that we are totally reliant on GPS and have no back-up in the form of Galileo.

“With Galileo to some degree, from a civilian perspective, the accessibility that we would gain was actually going to be far more accurate.”

The Government’s acquisition of OneWeb earlier this year in a £900million deal, in partnership with Bharti Global, did not solve the problem either because the satellites involved were in too low an orbit to be “retooled” as a GNSS, Mr Ellwood said.

He also suggested the initial plan to go it alone was an attempt to apply leverage on the EU – leverage which he said had disappeared when Airbus shifted key areas of its operation to France.

Mr Ellwood, therefore, believes the UK must seek negotiations with the EU with the aim of retaining access to Galileo after the end of the year.

Britain’s reliance on GPS left it in a difficult position because the nation is totally reliant on the American system to launch missiles and fly Typhoon jets and F-35s.

He added: “If we don’t have the back-up of Galileo we are going to have problems, we will be extremely vulnerable.”

Speaking in July in response a question by now-Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, Amanda Solloway, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Science, Research and Innovation said: “The UK GNSS programme incurred costs of approximately £45.5m up to March 31st 2020.

“For the period 1 April 2020 to 30 September 2020 the GNSS Programme is managing costs within its budget allocation of approximately £18.7m.”

A spokesperson for the UK Space Agency told “Work completed by the UK GNSS programme has so far developed cutting edge British expertise in areas such as spacecraft, antenna design, systems engineering and satellite and ground control systems, supporting high-skilled jobs across the UK.

“The UK will not participate in the EU’s Galileo programme.”

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